Hip-Hop’s Marvin Gay, the man who put the R in R&B, or my personal favorite, the prince of pillow-talk. No matter the moniker, there is no debate, R. Kelly is likely the biggest influence on modern day R&B. Imagining a world without R. Kelly would result in an imagined world without the likes of The-Dream, Trey Songz, Miguel or even Usher. With a natural likening to the original sensual tune-makers of the 1970’s and 80’s like Gaye and Isaac Hayes, Kelly donned his R&B roots beneath a Hip-hop cloak. He wasn’t the first artist in his subgenre which was termed, “new jack swing’, but he was definitely the one who brought it to the pop-culture forefront in the 90’s.
In 1993, R. Kelly changed R&B music forever when he released his studio debut, 12 Play. Sex is all over music and media in general today. Sex sells, as they say. But sex didn’t always sell music. That was thanks to the collaborative efforts of all R&B artists in decades past. R. Kelly was certainly one of these pioneers. Not worried about hiding behind metaphors or toned down realities, he said everything in black and white for all to hear. No need to try and interpret what it was that Kelly was talking about, it was sex, plain and simple.
This is where he shines. Uninhibited by any sort of mental restrictions regarding what is right and what is wrong to talk about. The album starts and ends with Kelly’s soothing crescendos delivered with the strongest sentiment of passion. By the time he was done with them, these R&B elements seemed to be intrinsically related to Hip-hop. The pitch variations and harmonic melodies put in the same room as boom-bap and funk; lock the door and throw away the key. When you hear Kelly’s voice crumble beneath its own weight and intensity saying, “My mind’s tellin’ me no. But my body, my body’s tellin’ me yes!”, gold is struck.
Dirty and perverse, yet not at all. Kelly makes making love constantly sound better than acceptable, he makes it sound necessary. Sexual meaning is found in almost every millimeter of this project’s architecture. There are moments like ‘Freak Dat Body’ and ‘Back To The Hood Of Things’, where Hip-hop makes headway over R&B to switch things up stylistically and they take away from the audible caressing Kelly does on the rest of the album while remaining catchy and worthwhile.
Apart from these moments, he has compiled a playlist of sex songs for any moment with 12 Play. Its relevance will never fade. Looking beneath the incredibly sexual natured exterior of each track you will find love and care. Kelly is a romantic at heart, an incredibly sexual one. His songs are held together by his equally sexual tone and a fantastic delivery of each note. He is capable of shifting the focus from light-hearted love to dirty, secretive sexual exploits and fantasies while making them both sound equally sensual. Seriously, if this album hadn’t come out months after I was born, I would seriously consider its conception as being a reason for mine — it is that sexual.
Ultimately, it ends up being in Kelly’s straightforwardness and simplicity that he succeeds, rather than abstractness. The concept is no more than creating good sexual music and in that respect is has more than succeeded. The only thing missing from the album now, is a bed.